A Brazilian gunman fatally shot 11 children at a Rio de Janeiro public school before he himself was killed, police said, shocking the South American nation that has never seen such an incident before.

It was not clear whether the gunman, who is believed to be a former student at the school, shot himself or was killed by police.

At least 18 other people, mostly students, were wounded in Thursday's shooting spree at the school for children aged 10 to 15. At least four were in grave condition, a health official said.

'No clear motive'

Colonel Evandro Bezerra, a fire department spokesman, told Brazil's Globo television network that the shooter was 24-year-old Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, a former student at the Tasso da Silveira school, in the western Realengo neighbourhood, who did not have any prior criminal record.

Shooting spree incident apparently unrelated to the
city's ongoing gang violence [TV Globo News]

Police said Oliveira left a letter at the scene indicating he wanted to commit suicide, however, it did not give a clear motive for the shooting.

Thursday's incident happened shortly after 08:30am local time (1130GMT) in Rio, in the western part of the city, Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from the vicinity, said.

"Police helicopters are landing on a football field very near the school to collect the injured and transport them to nearby hospitals," he said.

Initial reports said the gunman entered the school wearing a backpack and told officials he was there to deliver a speech, before opening fire in a classroom.

"It is not known why he fired,'' Colonel Ibis Pereira, a spokesman for the Rio de Janeiro military police said.

Police exchanged gunfire with the assailant, who was carrying two guns and a suicide note, before he killed himself, another police official told local media.

'Psychopath'

TV Globo News showed images of the wounded being loaded into ambulances at the school.

Terrified parents rushed to the school and television images showed them crying and screaming for information about their children, while police held them back from the scene.

 

The attack by Oliveira is the country's first serial shooting at a school in Brazil, which has never had an attack similar to incidents in the United States, including the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and the 1999 Columbine high school shooting in Colorado.

Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, wept when commenting on the incident during a speech to business leaders and requested a moment of silence for the victims.

"This type of crime is not characteristic of [our] country and therefore we are all ... united in repudiating this act of violence," Rousseff said.
   
"We have to show solidarity and support for the families of the children [killed by] that psychopath, that animal," Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, said in a press conference at the school.

Violence in Rio traditionally has been associated with drug gangs that control vast areas of the city's slum communities.

Rio's government has in recent months made considerable advances against drug gangs that control vast areas of the city's slum communities but crime remains a problem in the beachside tourist haven.

Authorities have stepped up slum pacification efforts that have created a permanent police presence in poor neighbourhoods in hopes of tightening security in advance of the 2014 World Cup football championship and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies